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While bass get the bold headlines beneath the surface and willing to bite even sometimes easier to catch, crappie and bluegill could make your day. Bass boats, bass baits and bass tournaments dominate the freshwater fishing world but there are legions of devoted fishing enthusiasts willing to cast for crappie and bluegills. With booming populations and the fact that they are “schooling” species part of the attraction is if you find them, they usually have friends. For those who are fans of the fish fry the limits in most places are liberal. With many species including crappie and bluegill, they can be caught year-round and using many different techniques, lures and even live bait. Not yet convinced, read on.

The mobility of the kayak is made for this type of fishing. Crappie, by nature inhabit and hover around wood and man-made cover. In the kayak you can maneuver into position to deliver a bait directly into the strike zone of the laziest fish. Waters not accessible to big boats are no obstacle to the kayaker. I’ve always believed the hardest part is not catching the fish, it’s finding the fish. Many states spend a lot of time and money in the construction fish attractors for the sole purpose of bringing fish and holding them in a specific area. Around fishing piers and marked throughout lakes the attractors dramatically cut search time and payoff year-round. As it is with bass, knowing their habits, habitat, migration and food sources positions you to be successful. In our state, Tennessee the limits are generous, in most areas they allow 15 crappie 10 inches long and unlimited harvest of bluegills.

The bluegill is found everywhere in the continental United States. Where they aren’t native, they were introduced. A hand sized bluegill gives a great account of itself on any tackle. The world record came from Alabama and was an incredible 4 pounds and 12 ounces and an impressive 15 inches long with a girth of 18 ½ inches! Besides being hard fighters, they are willing to hit almost anything offered. My constant fishing companion Debbie adds, “when the bluegills are spawning, I love to take the fly rod and catch them.” As for me the fly rod and an ultralight spinning set up is what I look forward to from spring until late fall. A small variety of artificial baits is all you need for most of the species of panfish. Besides a small variety of spiders and bug imitations a small box of soft plastic lures along with mini-spinners, tiny crankbaits will get you enough to “stink up a skillet.” The trick with the surface flies is patience. Let the floating creations hover over the bluegill bed and after several seconds a gentle twitch will bring a fish out of hiding or nest protection mode. A pleasant surprise is the common disappearance of the bug by a bass hit. A three-pound bass on a five-weight fly rod is a memorable experience. In using the soft plastic tubes, curlytail grubs, craws and other phony forage imitations a trick we use is a slow arcing retrieve with a constant very subtle twitch. This technique is deadly year-round and on any type of water.

Because most of the fish in this category are schoolers there are a few things you can do to increase your catch. In an area that you believe holds fish approach with a mindset of finding the perimeter. Work you bait from the edges of what you believe is the “sweet spot.” This tactic doesn’t disturb the entire school of fish and lets you pick off a few fish at a time until you hit the center of activity. Similarly, for the bedding bluegill catch the fish closest to you so as to not disturb the area by dragging a fighting fish through and spook the rest of the residents. The back of my Jackson Kayak will accommodate an old J-Krate or an Orion to use as a livewell in securing the fish for the fillet and fish fry. Fill the cooler halfway with water and the fish should stay lively for a good portion of the day. A stringer attached to the kayak for easy reach and use is also an option.

While Debbie pedals the BITE FD I stand in my Big Rig for the visual advantage and more efficient hook setting capabilities. As previously mentioned the lightweight fly rod is fun but rarely do I launch with out a light or ultralight spinning rod. Spooled with braided line from K9line and with a k9line fluorocarbon leader I make my leader a ½ foot shorter than my rod so I can use a close-range pendulum cast to the crappie hideout. The fight you get on the lightweight outfit just adds to the fun. My goal if it’s a keeping day is enough fish for one meal plus a couple left over (ha-ha, left over). We target (or keep) the bigger crappie, preferably 12 inches or more and the bigger bluegill we land. Both fish generally have high populations and are renewable resources at a rate of one to two years. Eight filleted fish are ideal for a meal of fresh fish for us.

If you’re a fan of live bait, a bucket of minnows for the crappie and either a tube of crickets or cup of worms is all you need. I fish both under a float to increase the excitement of watching the bobber / float dance and disappear. My normal rig is two small pinch-on split shot lead sinkers and a #8 or #10 light wire hook. Carry extra of each because you are fishing around heavy cover and there will be the occasional break off.
We’re not abandoning the bass but, on some days, if the bass bite is slow or you just want to try something different the other fish are available almost everywhere for fun AND food.