Fishing & Boating News

Of Calico’s, Sac-a-let, and MoHawks

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Sam Rayburn Guide - Bobby LeBert
Photo by Ed Snyder
Gene Hollyfield and Gary Collins
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Apr 8, 2016 - Jasper, TX)

There are actually three species of crappie in Rayburn waters, the white, black, and Mohawk. Whites are silvery in color with barred markings; blacks are also silvery but have speckled markings. The Mohawk, so named due to its unusual black stripe running from the top of its head to its dorsal fin, giving it that Mohawk Indian look, is actually a sub-species of the black crappie.
Brush-hopping is what we’re doing this morning, stated Bobby Lebert, a top fishing guide on Lake Sam Rayburn, guiding his boat over a brush-top situated on a long point in 32 feet of water, with drop-offs on each side sloping down to deeper water. Suddenly the LCR showed fish holding on the bottom at the 32 foot mark. “ These fish look like much bigger crappie, Bobby advised, and they’re flat on the bottom. So we’ll just slowly drift our jigs through the brush snags along the bottom, he advised, and we should be able to catch a few of them.
And the bites do occur, but not really like a bite, per-say, but more like just a soft pull with your rod slowly loading up, feeling much like snagging on brush. But these weren’t snags at all as our mornings search quickly upgrades f rom catching 12 to14 inch crappie to 18 to 19 inch mega crappie. Slow and soft hook-sets are advised here as heavier crappie requires finesse handling or they’ll just tear off of the tiny 32nd oz jig hooks we’re using. Landing nets are recommended for boating these huge fish or your excitement quickly turns to frustration by losing such big fish.
I’ll be crappie fishing until the bass start up in M arch, Bobby explained, until late April when the crappie begin migrating to and from their deep water haunts for their spawning phase. During spring you’ll get numbers of crappie, but rarely those 20inch trophy crappie we catch in winter.
If you want numbers of crappie this time of year, Bobby advised, then go north to the Hwy 103 bridge area on the Angelina River, or along the Hwy-87 bridge area of Ayish Bayou, and the 147 bridge between Zavalla and Broadus. The Crappie are stacking up in these areas now, stated Lebert, feeding on shad and waiting for the spawning run to begin. But if you would like a chance at catching some trophy crappie your best bet will be in the south-lake area brush tops, where some really BIG crappie are holding in deep water brush tops.

“Easy does it, move up just a little more, NOW, DROP THE MARKER! Alerted Gene Hollyfield. This is the brushtop that helped us win a crappie tournament, he stated as he maneuvered his craft over an unseen GPS point. And after the boat was turned into the wind to settle near the marker, the essence for their first place “bragging- rights” began slowly drifting across their LCD monitor.

 “Big Sam” holds one of the most sought after game fish in the sport fishing industry, Bass, large-mouth black bass. But Rayburn also harbors the “second” most sought after game fish in the sport of fishing, Crappie, where millions of crappie anglers each year spend millions of dollars on specialized tackle just to fish for, and hopefully catch these be speckled members of cherished creels. . “One of the key factors for becoming a successful crappie angler, advised Gene, is to build underwater brush tops for inserting into key areas on the lake, where crappie tend to school and hold to structure. And that is exactly what a brush top is, structure that will attract bait-fish and provide cover and protection for the crappie.
“Yeah, that is until WE arrive, chortled Gary Collins. After a few chuckles, Gary explained that taking great care to details of where the crappie migrate to and from on a daily basis, much like finding their main highways of movement, and then carefully placing your brush tops in these areas to provide stopovers for feeding and resting. After you’ve placed your brush tops, which mostly consists of Willow trees and brush tied together, then setting them up in vertical positions, you can expect to find fish holding on them within 24 hours. Our preference is to put our brush tops where they’ll rise up to within 10’ to15’ of the surface, which seems to provide the best situation for catching crappie after they’ve settled in. “We primarily prefer putting our “tops” in 25 to 30 ft of water around points, humps, or ridges that have steep drop offs, Collins advised, and rig our tops to rise up 15 ft tall. We sometimes will bait these brush tops with molasses blocks to help attract bait-fish, but they will also attract other species such as catfish, drum, and bream, as well as bass.

 “We catch a lot of bass off of our structure, Gene informed, the biggest being 8 lbs  15  ozs, plus hybrid striper will come through from time to time, which can really be a hoot when catching an 8 or 10 lb hybrid on ultra lite tackle. “Sensitivity is the key factor here, explained Gene Hollyfield, when fishing for crappie over the brush tops. And the best rods and reels we’ve found for this are the new Wally Marshall series crappie rods and reels. I find these Wally rigs to be exceptional tools for crappie fishing that provide the best sense of feel for when the crappie are the hardest to catch. We prefer the spinning reels spooled with 4 lb or 6 Lb test line and 6 ½ foot ultra lite action rods that have ultra sensitive tips. These rods are so sensitive, Gary informed, that when using live minnows for bait you will actually feel the vibrations of a minnow swimming around. But we prefer to use 16th or 32nd oz crappie jigs loaded with Lonnie Stanley’s wedge tailed minnows, which provides superb lifelike action that crappie find absolutely irresistible.
"It's really not a chicken coop per-say, informs Noe Garcia, "but just an area of the lake that often produces some really incredible Winter Crappie fishing action for those anglers who don't mind fishing in Winter chills to catch some crappie, or as we say in Louisiana, Sacalait, for the supper table. "The Chicken Coop's name, Noe further told, "derived from a long fishing pier that once jutted out into the Sabine River channel, which had several fishing shanties built along it that resembled little chicken coop-like structures.

Often written about in numerous magazines, newspapers, and tabloids by outdoor writers, the "Chicken Coop" fishing area is located on the Texas side of the lake betwixt buoy markers #56 and #61, which is situated along the deepwater stretch that abuts the high cliffs of Newells Fishing World along the Sabine River channel in the mid-lake area just north of the Pendleton Bridge. During the cold of winter, when the water temperature dips below the 55-degree mark, the shad, a species of food fish within the river system, begin to school up into tight balls for protection against the chill of the dropping water temps, which creates a virtual feast for other fish such as black bass, white bass, yellow bass, and crappie, or Sacalait that feed on these tightly balled up schools of shad.

"This becomes a winter fishing bonanza for us, Noe explains, "as the sacalait begin to form up into huge schools within these deepwater river channel areas to feed on the shad, as well as to find protection against the chill of the dropping lake water temperatures.

"There have been times, Dallas Breaux recalled, "when back in those times when we had no fishing limits on the sacalait, that anglers once filled their coolers, fish baskets, and boats up with fish. "Yes, for sure, Noe added, "that's when it was possible to come out here and catch anywhere from 200 to 300 sacalait per fishing trip.

"But due to the concentrated fishing pressures caused by such a bonanza, Noe Garcia informed, "the sacalait were sheltered with enforced fishing limits and protective game-fish laws to avoid over-fishing. "Yes they were, Dallas explained, "as Texas fishing laws now enforce a ten inch minimum and 25 fish maximum daily bag limit, with Louisiana laws supporting 50 crappie per day limits with no size minimums. "But, as of today, December 1st, Dallas further noted, a special "winter limit" is enforced by the Texas rules which allows for anglers to keep the first 25 crappie caught per-day here on Toledo Bend, which must be kept "regardless" of size. "This new winter-time ruling is to help protect the crappie fishery as most crappie caught from the deeper waters seldom survive release due to shock and air bladder problems. "In the past, Noe informed, "When these smaller crappie were caught and released we usually had a massive fish kill from those smaller crappie releases as most anglers tried to catch the larger crappie. So this new winter rule is designed to offset the winter-kill ratio and to protect the crappie fishery.
The importance of GPS, Sonar, and Marker Buoys are absolutely critical when doing this type of fishing, Guide Roy Sanford stressed, as you first must GPS (global positioning satellite) to pinpoint your brush-top for trying to locate it later, then sonar it with your depth recorder to correctly position your boat, then toss out the marker buoy to know where you'll be casting to. Its imperative that you understand and know how to use these tools if you want to be successful at fishing for crappie on the brush-tops.

Between now through June, Roy finalized, I'm expecting the bulk of the crappie to move from the grass to the brush-tops where they'll start holding around 8 to 10ft, and THAT is when the crappie fishing will become absolutely MAGICAL where they can be caught on just about every cast and this is when it becomes fun for the entire family!
Picture a day on the lake with friends or family, this writer/angler reviews, the weather is calm and comfy. You’ve done everything right, found some underwater brush, situated your boat correctly, and cast your fishing lines with “hopefully” the right stuff. Your kids are bickering, and your wife’s on the cell talking to her BF. All of a sudden you feel a tug or tic on your line which causes you to reflex up with your rod bent to the gunnel. “FISH ON! You yell as a silvery spotted crappie comes on board. The kids aren’t bickering, watching their rods instead. The wife is excited, no longer gabbing to her BF-(well, at least for now)- and you are well on your way to an exciting day on the lake with that fish fry dinner you’ve been dreaming about.. 
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Handful of Prime Crappie Baits!
Photo by Ed Snyder