Woody Radar fishing

Murfreesboro fishing guide Mark Travis brings in a crappie he's located with his electronics. 

How to spy on crappie

I used to think that if you could find the crappie you could catch the crappie.

I assumed that if you could locate them, then dangle a wriggling minnow or twitch a seductive jig under their nose, they’d bite.

I was wrong.

During a recent trip to Percy Priest Lake with Lebanon’s Chuck Campbell and acclaimed crappie guide Mark Travis of Murfreesboro, we watched on Mark’s fancy electronic screen as big schools of crappie snubbed our baits and lures.

The fish showed clearly on the screen, holding tight in old trees and other cover deep below the surface. Occasionally one would dart out toward our minnows. Once in a while one would latch on – we brought in 28 at the end of the day.

But for the most part, the crappie ignored the baits we dropped in their laps.

No one knows why.

“Nobody knows what triggers a strike,” Travis says. “What makes a crappie take a minnow one time and ignore it the next? Some of it could be reaction strikes – sometimes when you jerk a minnow or bait away from the fish, it goes after it. Other times the fish will dart after the bait, then suddenly turn away.”

He chuckles and confesses:

“I’m fascinated by watching them. It’s like playing a video game. Sometimes I get so caught up in watching the fish that I almost forget I’m fishing.”

Even though locating the crappie doesn’t guarantee filling the cooler, it’s a big confidence booster to see them down there. Watching big slabs finning around your minnow keeps you on your toes.

I have no experience with fancy fishing electronics. Mark’s looks like it came from NASA. It not only shows the fish and the cover around them, it beams up their exact size and how many scales are on their belly.

Meanwhile, I have trouble operating my TV remote control.

Long-time fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I have a battered old boat – the Carp Ark – and the only electronic gadget on it is a depth-finder. It doesn’t help us catch fish, but it comes in handy when Sherborne falls overboard. It lets him know whether to wade or swim.

During the prime spring crappie season, we fish around visible surface cover and some submerged stuff we’ve found over the years. We work a spot for a while and if we don’t catch a fish fairly quickly, we move on, assuming no fish are there.

We may have been assuming wrong all these years. The fish may have been there but hesitated to bite right away.

That’s why Mark preaches patience. He’ll work a patch of cover over and over. He knows the crappie are down there. He can see them.

And usually, eventually, one will bite.

“Live action!” he’ll shout, like the wacky Turtle Man on the old TV show.

And in comes another crappie, brought to you by Thomas Edison.

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