Tag Archives: Crappie

Float and Fly for Lethargic Fish

If there is one fly fishing technique that I love to fish most that would be float and fly fishing. This is simple 101 fishing. Basically, it’s suspending a fly (usually a tied on a jig hook) underneath an indicator and fished like live bait. Any time of year this method catches fish like crazy but in cool or cold water it really shines.

In the colder water periods of the year the fish get really lethargic and do not move far or quickly to a bait. It’s like they have to think about it for a while if they really want to move any distance to eat something. So, the closer you can get and can keep your fly to their face, the better chance you stand of her taking it.

Craig_bass_3-1-17_1And oh, I am usually trying to catch “her”, the females tend to be bigger in the first place. Winter into early spring and the pre-spawn period of time is when the females are not only full of eggs but are fattening up in preparation of the spawn. This IS big fish time.

No other technique can put a fly in the fish’s faces and keep it there better than float and fly. Not only that but it also will detect the most subtle of strikes. Let me explain. Fishing with any other method, be it with a floating or a sinking line you develop an arch or bow in your line. You make a cast and the fly sinks to the bottom pulling the leader or sinking line with it. The slower you fish or especially if you come to a complete stop this bow is exaggerated as the leader or the fly line itself continues to sink. From your fly to your rod tip you end up with a half a bell curve or a full “L” in your line. This will negate any sense of feel from a strike and if the wind is blowing, good luck seeing a twitch in your line.

Not only that but if you continue stripping the fly to keep contact with it, you are moving it away from that lethargic fish. If you stop stripping, the fly will sink to the bottom and possible get hung up or disappear from view in any weeds that may be growing there.

But with a float and fly rig your fly is always at a straight-line connection from the fly to the indicator. If a fish as much as breathes on your fly the indicator will move. Plus, if you weight the rig properly that there is enough weight in the fly itself or with added split shots, the indicator will stand erect when the fly reaches its maximum set depth. Set this way even if a fish lightly picks up the fly and rises in the water column rather than turning or going down, the resistance removed from the indicator will cause it to fall over on its side. Any change in attitude to the indicator that you do not directly cause is most likely a strike…and hooksets are free.

Another beauty of this system is it takes nothing fancy or expensive to do it. In fact, the flies used for this are so easy to tie that you don’t mind putting them in harm’s way (close to cover) in order to catch more fish. All the patterns that I use are tied on ninety-degree jig hooks to help them hang perfectly horizontal underneath the indicator. That is very important to keep the fly looking natural like a small baitfish just suspending motionless in place. You do not want the pattern hanging either nose or tail downward.

float_n_fly_selection_3-1-17_3I have designed several flies to fish just this way. Patterns like my M & M, Wee Willy Wiggler, Big Willy, the Sonic Boom and the Magic Bullet are all designed specifically for float and fly. Not that you cannot fish them other ways but just their origins were for this method. This is finesse fishing so these flies are relatively small, one to three inches. Yet surprisingly these same small flies are responsible for some of my largest fish of all time, much less the largest of the year.

Any rod and reel will work doing this. The only thing to remember is that the deeper you want to fish, the further you have to set the indicator from the fly. Not only do you have to cast this but you must be able to reach your fish to land it when your indicator is butted up against your rod tip. This is the reason for the use of a slip indicator if you plan on fishing much below eight or ten feet. The longer the rod you use, the deeper you can fish easier. I will admit that I use a variety of rods from seven and a half feet to nine feet in length most of the time when fishing three to eight feet deep. It’s only when I want to exceed the ten-foot depth mark do I move up to a ten or eleven-foot rod. I have fished this method down to twenty feet with success. Again, being finesse fishing with hook sizes from #12 to #2 I typically fish rod weights between a 3-wt to a 7-wt. Tippet strength varies with fish size and cover. 3X or 4X are pretty standard with the little flies but I’m not afraid to jump up to 0X if I’m casting at bass.

Craig_crappie_3-1-17_4The fishing technique itself is simple. First determine how deep the fish are or the cover is that you wish to fish over. Then adjust your indicator (or as I prefer to say for this very reason, depth regulator) to the depth you wish the fly to suspend at. This should be slightly above the cover or fish as most species tend to feed up. At its deepest the fly should hover just off the bottom like some small creature swimming along and not dragging on the bottom. Yes, as in everything thing in life there is an exception to this rule but it applies most of the time. Then simply cast the rig towards the likely area and wait. I’m a fairly impatient person so I usually let it sit in place for about ten seconds without a strike before stripping it six to twelve inches and waiting again. I continue this for as long as I feel that I am still fishing inside the strike zone before picking it up and casting at another target. Sometimes when it’s really cold or a cold front has just pushed through, it pays off to let the fly remain motionless for up to a minute before moving it at all. You have to experiment with the timing and let the fish tell you what is right.

Well there you have it in a nutshell, the basics of float and fly fishing. Nothing can be simpler or more effective most of the time. The big bonus is that you’re never quite sure of what you might get hooked into on the next cast. Even with the smallest of flies you could catch a three-inch bream on one cast and the trophy of your life on the next. This season so far alone these flies have accounted for an eleven pound plus largemouth bass, a three-pound crappie and a fifteen-pound catfish. So just remember to keep a good grip on your fly rod every time your indicator dips under because you never know what might be on the other end of your line!Adrian_catfish_3-1-17_2

A Really Crappie Day

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. But during the last week of the month that lion ambushed me one last time to bite me on my a*# during my latest fishing trip. What was predicted to be a perfect picnic weather early spring day ended up going south (even further south than Georgia where I live) and turned into a day where temps stayed twenty degrees below what I was expecting and offered winds that would dislodge just about every anchor hold I attempted to make.

Casting was also a challenge having to aim a good fifteen feet upwind of your target in hopes of getting anywhere close. Having exchanged my six weight out of my boat the night before for my three at the forecast of good weather, I found myself doing a lot of side arm double haul casting in an attempt to stay below the wind and of reaching my target.

Let me regress a little. Spring was a week old and down here in the south that means everything is biting. I had headed out to High Falls Lake just south of Atlanta, it’s a lake that I had been meaning to try for years. Not knowing what to expect I planned on doing “just a little fishing”. By that I mean I’m rigged for multiple species and whoever wants to bite, I’ll fish for. This particular body of water is noted for larger than average bass and if I had to pick one species they would be my fish of choice. But as fate would have it, as I was launching my boat that morning I kept seeing small rises fifty yards offshore on the lee side of the point the ramp was on. I figure it may be bluegill or maybe even crappie and I’d give them a few minutes before I set out for the bass because hey, whatever they are, they were active.

Being just after sunrise, the wind was only blowing moderately then, still a little disconcerting for this early in the day. As I drifted across the flat where I had seen the rises I blind casted a #8 Sonic Boom fly on a slow sinking line hoping to connect with whatever had been feeding there just ten minutes before but to no avail. It was then I spied several brush piles lining the nearby bank. I thought to myself, “If those were crappie out here, that brush would surely hold more of them.” Moving in close to the brush I dropped anchor a short cast away (and it held, this would be the only time on this trip I could say that). I changed to a floating line with a small ½” strike indicator above the fly to suspend it near the brush piles and whatever lay beneath. Three casts in I had my first fish of the day, a nice foot long crappie. Thinking I was on to something I continued down the brushy bank for forty minutes with only two missed strikes to show for it.

Needing a change I surveyed the bay I was in. I was just off the ramp and hadn’t even turned my outboard on yet. I could see docks lining the opposite bank and more shoreline brush further down the bank the side I was on. But it was the three stumps I saw protruding mid lake that caught my eye. It was still early and maybe the water hadn’t warmed enough yet to bring the crappie to the bank in numbers. I idled out to the stumps and found them surrounded by eight feet of water, nearly the deepest in the bay. It was a perfect holding spot for pre-spawn crappie. By now the wind had picked up some since I started fishing near an hour before. Swinging the boat to the downwind side of the first stump, actually a twenty foot pine lying on its side with only one large branch reaching out of the water, I dropped an anchor within casting distance. By time I stripped out and stretched my fly line the boat was no longer in casting distance as the ten pound anchor failed to find something to hold to against the pressure of the wind. I moved the boat back upwind this time being more even with the tree’s center and off to its side figuring to slowly be blown parallel with it.

Quickly I got out a #8 chartreuse Sonic Boom set four foot under an indicator. Just as fast I was into a beautiful thirteen inch crappie. It pulled hard against my three weight rod and was tough to keep out of the tree branches. With each successive cast two amazing things happened. First I caught another beautiful crappie, some up to fifteen inches and second, the wind would get stronger. By time I put the twentieth crappie in the live well I had repositioned the boat at least six times and it had become almost impossible to hold bottom at this depth, at least in this bay. My casts had become shorter and less frequent with the wind. Whereas I had been making six or eight casts before I was out of position, it now was one and done. It was time to move on.

Seven hours later, with dozens of spots tried some deep on sunken logs or creek channels others shallow near docks or brush but all still in the wind, I had yet to draw another strike. If this were fishing a large flat or expansive weed bed, a sea anchor could have slowed the boat enough to fan cast the area. But here it was fishing “spots”, a log, a dock, a brush pile, you had to get the boat to stop to fish it effectively and that just wasn’t happening.
As the sun neared the tree tops I figured I had one more stop before I’d have to call it a day. That’s when I decided to go back to that brush pile I had caught my very first fish out of. The water temperature had risen four degrees since morning and the wind direction had shifted some giving that little bay a slight respite from the gale. Maybe the fish had moved in. This is when the day got really crappie. Yes I mean crappie, not crappy.

I put two anchors down holding me parallel to the brush pile. It lay in five feet of water with the actual bank twenty feet behind it and lined with water willows. The first five or six casts at the brush pile got nothing. Extending my cast I put the next right against the water willows, not taking the time to reposition the boat to take the brush out of my way. In went a #8 chartreuse Wee Willy Wiggler set two foot under an indicator and back came a fourteen inch slab crappie. Next cast had the same result and so did the next and the next. In the last ninety minutes of day light, thirty more gorgeous slab crappie crossed over my gunnel. None was smaller than twelve inches and the best nudged two pounds. Yes I lost a couple of beauties to that brush pile not moving the boat away from it but it added to the excitement. It turned into the crappiest day of fishing I had in some time. I think earning them made it oh the sweeter.

Carter’s Lake – Hot Spot for Cold Weather Fishing

Craig and bass from Carters Lake

As our fall season progresses deeper into cool or even down right cold weather, many of us hang up our warm water gear until the warmth of spring (or shear boredom) ignites our interests to head out onto the waters again. Well I have news for ya’ll, the warm water season never ends, at least south of the Mason – Dixon. If there’s no ice on the lake, there are still fish to be caught without drilling a hole. Making a hole in the ice big enough to fly cast in is just a pain.

Wooded Point at Carters Lake

Certain species and bodies of water just lend themselves to better action at this time of year. One of my favorite cold weather, warm water species is the spotted bass. Here in north Georgia the spots just seem to continue to feed heavily all fall and winter just gorging on shad and turning into footballs. Though many of the fish will be hanging off deep points and timber, thirty to forty feet down, which is still do-able, there are times and places that bring the bait and bass anywhere from twenty feet deep all the way to the surface to feed. One of my favorite lakes for this is Carter’s Lake near Ellijay Georgia.

Carter’s is a 3220 acre Army Corp of Engineers lake on the Coosawatee River in northwest Georgia. Being a Corp lakes means that there is no development (meaning docks) along the 62 miles of shoreline. But the Corp and the state have added an abundance of submerged cover and fish cribs to enhance the fishing. Check the Georgia DNR website for a map of just where they planted all of these. The lake has largemouth, spotted, hybrid, striped and yellow bass, crappie, bluegill, walleyes and catfish in it. But it’s the spotted bass we’re concerned with now. There is one commercial marina and six Corp boat ramps on the lake. There are three campgrounds with sites from completely primitive to those with electricity, laundry and showers. Plus the marina has full housekeeping cabins for rent.

Although being a fairly large and deep body of water, Carter’s has plenty of arms and coves to escape the wind if it chances to blow or you are fishing out of a smaller boat or kayak. But it definitely is boating water with only limited shoreline opportunities.

Depth finder view

If you want to talk about off the deep edge, this is the place. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Carter’s is about 450 feet deep. This is one of the deepest and steepest lakes in the state and what makes it great for cold weather fishing. I hear the “whats?” already. In cold weather the fish do move slower and less than in the warmer seasons. So traveling long distances from deep water to shallower water to chase bait just isn’t going to happen. The easy route is vertical. No swimming involved, just fill your air bladder and rise in the water column. That’s why steep banks or bluff walls that abound in Carter’s Lake excel in the cold waters.

The absolute best method for fishing this time of year and type of structure is something we all been doing forever, float and fly. Nothing more than an exaggerated indicator/nymph rig. A jig type fly under an indicator is deadly on fish suspended off vertical structure or bait. My favorite patterns to do this with are my M & M’s or Sonic Booms. Both are tied on a 90 degree jig hooks and are balanced to hang horizontally in the water when suspended under an indicator. The smaller size #8 may bring more strikes, often from panfish. It’s the larger #4 or #2 that get the interest of the bigger fish. These are still finesse sized baits perfect for cold water at about 2 1/2′” long each.

M&M

I typically use a fifteen foot leader doing this but lengths of twenty feet are not out of the question. A half to three quarter inch diameter indicator is used to suspend the fly. The fly itself has enough weight to get to those depths relatively quickly. A longer fly rod, say ten foot or more in the six to seven weight range will help in managing fish landings and casting with such lengthy leaders. Though I usually use a cork and tooth pick type indicator, there is a new one called the Plumbobber (www.PinsAndFins.com) that acts like a slip bobber allowing it to slide down the line when trying to land a fish. I see great promise in these when fishing deep. When fishing this technique shallower, a typical tapered leader is just fine but when going for more depth a leader of straight tippet material or one with a much finer taper would be better. Just keep a tight loop when casting or this set up will create quite a mess in a hurry. Over lining by one weight or pre-over weighted lines such as a Clouser, a Rio Grand or a Wulff Ambush line help deliver this rig with the minimum of false casts.

I fished here last week looking to see if the float and fly bite was on yet. With the first real cold front of the year having just pushed through, it did cool the waters some but not yet to the degree that the bass would be stacked on vertical structure. In fact, the spots were still hanging in the backs of creek arms chasing shad. Not a bad thing as I was still able to catch a few on top with a Flypala as they busted on bait. To play chase the bait, you have to move around a lot hoping to be wherever it is that they just happen to pop up next. As with float and fly you find several channel swings or bluff banks and rotate between them looking to catch the bass when they become active. I did manage to find schools of fish suspended twelve feet down in little pockets or “hollers” half way back the creek arms. To my surprise I found them to be channel catfish. Which readily hit flies and they bend a rod pretty well too!

Spotted bass with Flypala

There was a mid-afternoon surprise going on. Along a windswept bluff fish started to make large splashy rises right against the bank. From what I could make out, these were large panfish, bass and carp taking something right off the surface. I threw everything in my box at them without even a passing look from them at it. I figured it was small minnows or young of the year shad. Finally giving up, I moved in right on top of the action to find out what it was they were keying in on to the exclusion of everything else. With Carter’s Lake being so deep and infertile I never suspected there was a midge hatch going on. But here were these fairly large, maybe a size 16 jet black insects being blown against the bluff. Sad story is I was rigged for bear and had not a one insect type pattern on me. Lesson learned!

As the weather cools more, the float and fly fishing on Carter’s Lake should pick up for those of you who still brave the elements and get yourself out there. Use your electronic to find suspended fish and fish very slowly over them. Did I mention you might run into stripers chasing bait too? Some hot fishing in cold waters.

Flypala