While there is great crappie fishing in both the Delta and the big foothill reservoirs, small farmponds are best this early in the season. Because they are smaller and usually more shallow, farmponds get warm sooner than the bigger, deeper waters. All it takes is a week or 10 days of warm spring weather, and the water in shallow ponds will heat up enough to the point where the crappie begin their spring feeding binge. The fish have been dormant all winter and make up for lost time by feeding voraciously.
Sure, I fish the bigger waters too, but farmponds give me a head start on the season.
The crappie has an awful lot going for it. They grow to a fairly large size, are extremely prolific and usually quite plentiful. Crappie are spirited fighters and reasonably cooperative when it comes to getting hooked, and they are probably the best-tasting fish that swims. But, before you can have a crappie feed, you have to catch them.
One of the crappie’s best features is, whatever way you like to fish, that’s just fine with them. Bait, spinners and flies all enable you to catch multitudes of crappie.
Whichever angling method you choose, the single most important thing to remember in catching crappie is that they are excellent predators that love to eat minnows. Since minnows usually congregate in submerged brush for protection, that's where you'll find crappie. To paraphrase an old real estate axiom, the three best places to find crappies are brush, brush and more brush.
Obviously, if you are a bait fisher, the best bait for crappies is live minnows. Use a bobber and vary the depth of the minnow until you find the depth the fish are holding at.
If you prefer spinfishing gear, probably your best bet is the crappie jig, which is a lightly weighted hook with either a soft plastic body or a body of brightly colored feathers. Many different colors work, but my favorites are red and white or chartreuse. As in baitfishing, vary the depth of the jig until you strike paydirt. Cast along the edge of the brush and use short jerks of the rod tip to give the jig a lively motion.
While lots of folks never thought of flyrods as a crappie weapon, I really enjoy using an ultra-light crappie jig with my flyrod. You have to slow the timing of your backcast and wait until you feel the tug of the line behind you before you start your forward cast. Otherwise you' ll waste a lot of valuable fishing time in the doctors office having hooks cut out of the back of your neck. Shatterproof sunglasses and widebrimmed hats are also recommended.
While I am usually an advocate of catch-and-release fishing so that we'll have good fishing into the future, crappie can be an exception to the rule. Crappie, like bluegills and brook trout, are just too darned prolific for their own good. In a closed environment, like a farmpond, crappie will keep breeding until there are too many fish for the amount of food available. The result is an unhealthy population of stunted fish.
Catching and eating a big batch of crappie once in a while will actually result in a healthy population of larger fish. Don't feel guilty about keeping a big mess of farmpond crappie. Keeping a giant stringerful of crappie for a family feed is good for the fishery, and it's even better on the palate.
While a fish fry is an old tradition, I really prefer to barbecue crappie and baste them with lemon butter. Throw in some garlic French bread and a good white wine and you've got a meal fit for a king.
Well, there you have it. Grab your rod, head for your local farmpond and expect some sunshine, great fun and some of the finest tasting fish in the world, the crappie.
Until next week, tight lines.
• Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.