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First Fish of February

February teases you with the promise of a new season. In a larger portion of the country bitterly cold weather and snow hopefully is in the rearview mirror and days are longer, extended sunshine arrives and offers paddling plus fishing opportunities. We often target bass but sometimes we go junk fishing, casting for anything willing to bite. The late winter tackle box is smaller, no topwater lures, a heavy emphasis on jigs, a few crankbaits, a spinner or two are tossed in for the optimistic bass angler. History has taught us to carry a few smaller lures and a lightweight spinning outfit for probing some of the areas that have previously produced crappie. These wonderful fish, the black, white and blacknose crappie stay surprisingly active (even through the ice) year-round. A quick check of the surface water temperature gives you a clue as to what might be active. Couple a water temp above fifty and a favorable moon and you just might be getting bit. I target wood and vary my retrieve to what I would describe as a “glide and twitch” type of return.

First Fish of February
Working medium depths for bass is typical. If the bite is slow or nonexistent, we start the search for crappie in spots that yielded fish last season. With the kayak we will skip from place to place the looks like crappie country. Eight to fifteen feet of water, submerged wood, downed trees or even creek channels all get checked. Sometimes the first few fish come by accident. Most fishermen live by the saying, “I’d rather be lucky that good anytime”. The initial hit will tell you a lot. Is the bite aggressive? Are the fish staged on wood? What is the magic depth they are holding at? What color and weight leadhead were you using to fool the first fish?

Debbie Brian advises on her cold-water tactics, “I go slower with my retrieves in cooler water and often have fish take the bait as it sits still on the bottom. I’ve also done well with Ned rigs for crappie. I like the hands-free operation of my BITE FD for crappie fishing”.
Because crappie are notorious “schoolers” single fish are more the exception than the rule. Simulating the presentation can be tricky. Think slow retrieve and be aware of a subtle bite in the cold weather / cold water conditions.

Rivers are vastly overlooked for the crappie. Current will position them closer to cover and “reading” the moving water will help you put together a repeatable pattern. Think outside bends in the river for less current a favorable aspect of nesting fish. Inside bends get a heavier flow of water and could destroy spawning nests or bring silt in to cover the eggs. (Don’t start heating up the grease yet!) A few degrees difference in water temperature will draw or send the crappies scurrying to other areas. Fifty degrees or more brings crappie in for pre-spawn feeding, rising temperatures (air and water) will bring in numbers of fish. Along with stable or rising surface water temperatures be aware of the moon phase. The crappie will begin serious spawning activities around 60 degrees AND on the full moon. In Tennessee and surrounding states March and April are prime time.

First Fish of February
Lake fish react similarly to their river residing cousins. February fish may be in deeper, rarely shallower water. We’ve found then and caught thein 25-foot depths. The northwest side of the body of water you’re fishing for early season bass or crappie will be warmer because of the extended exposure to the sun. Rock, sand, gravel, concrete and other hard objects can hold bait, bass and the crappie.

Far and away subsurface wood is the best bet to find second month crappies. Wood stays as opposed to green aquatic vegetation, it draws bait fish to feed on the algae growing on it, the feeding cycle continues as the crappie feed on the minnows and assorted bait fish. If your fishing hole has a good shad population, you generally will have some super-slab crappies. With every predatory fish the key is to find the food source. Find the food = find the fish.

First Fish of February
We will work together to find fish by fishing different cover, depths and baits for any species. Once we develop a pattern, we hit the best-looking areas the fir most of the recently discovered criteria. A large submerged tree in ten feet of water and fish hitting a soft plastic tube on a 1/8th ounce leadhead has us double teaming (and stringing) a few crappies. * During the pre-spawn and spawn, we release most of our fish. A few small legal bass and a couple of crappies will be enough to make us a meal.

Our typical crappie setups consist of open face spinning outfits, I prefer a 6 ½ foot light action rod, the smaller reel (a Lew’s MH2- 100A) is spooled with braided line and a six-pound test fluorocarbon leader. I prefer the braid for strength and sensitivity and the fluorocarbon leader for its invisibility. Debbie prefers the medium action rod with same reel which positions her for bass, bluegill and crappie.

The Best Baits –

the majority of our February crappie are caught on smaller soft plastics. Late spring, summer and fall fish will hit bigger baits. In the dead of summer bass sized crankbaits will catch bunches of crappie. A small box dedicated to crappie is always along the seats of our Jackson Kayaks. We haul soft plastics in the form of tubes, curlytail grubs, and surprisingly small crawfish imitators. A huge factor in your success will be dictated by the weight of the leadhead you use. Don’t scrimp on the lead you carry aka LOL (LOTS OF LEAD) In tough conditions, clear cold water and no wind you may have to use 1/16th ounce lead, normal and standard for us is the 1/8th ounce leadhead. Slightly stained water, a bit of wind and keeping contact with the bait is facilitated by the heavier head, it’s also easier to cast. In heavy wind (the most hated kayak condition) I will, reluctantly use a ¼ ounce leadhead. At times small spinners like the Charlie Brewer Whirly Bee or the Strike Mini-Spin produce and for the feeding fish a pearl color curlytail grub can be deadly.

First Fish of February
A large part of our success on February fish comes on tube baits. The color selection is simple, the 0095 Monteleone silver tube from MidSouth Tackle is always close by or tied on. For ultra-clear water a white /silver glitter, moderately stained a #820 C chartreuse / red glitter tube and dirty water calls for the black/chartreuse tube. “Debbie offers her perspective, “I enjoy using the tubes and often catch crappie on a finesse worm”.

Debbie is relatively new to catching crappie I began catching them years ago it increased my interest to try to make my catches more consistent. Soon I developed a pattern of vertical and horizontal presentations. Vertical when the crappies are inactive and horizontal when the bite is more aggressive”. For suspended or inactive fish keeping the bait in the strike zone and slowing way down pays off.
When the bass bite is tough your first fish of February may in fact be the crappie.