MICHAEL NEAL: Crappie Teachers Provide Prudent Bass Lessons - Major League Fishing

MICHAEL NEAL: Crappie Teachers Provide Prudent Bass Lessons

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Michael Neal likes to go crappie fishing with Dayton locals like Ethan Davis (left) while he's home in the offseason to keep his bass fishing skills sharp. Photo Courtesy of Michael Neal
December 15, 2020 • Michael Neal • Angler Columns

Many of today’s top bass pros will be the first to tell you crappie fishing is a gateway to becoming a better bass angler. It’s so true. For me, going crappie fishing in the wintertime is one of the primary ways I keep my bass fishing skills sharp during the offseason.

Some people might not believe in the similarities between a speckled perch and a bass, but there is a powerful correlation at work here. Some of the most important bass fishing lessons I have learned over the years came from crappie.

Presentation is Key

One of those lessons is you can be on the biggest school of fish in the lake but if you don’t have the right presentation, you won’t get a bite. However, if you figure out what trips their trigger, you can catch nearly every one of them in the school.

Crappie can be pickier and even moodier than any spotted bass you’ll ever meet. They excel at turning their nose up at whatever you’re offering on the end of your line – over and over again. Then, with just one color change or jig weight change, they suddenly act like they’ve been starved to death for days. And when you return the next day with your “dialed in” crappie jig, guess what?

Yep, you got it, they turn their nose up at it and the game starts all over again.

Bass – of all species – are the same way. They can be right in front of your nose and simply just not bite. But change the cadence, color or vibration of a bait and bingo: it flips their switch. Figuring out that little thing that trips their trigger is what drives all good fishermen, whether it’s crappie or bass.

Back to the Basics

Crappie also remind me that I try to make fishing way too complicated. Each winter when I hit the water, I take all kinds of new jig bodies, head styles and crazy colors. I’ve even tried hand-tied jigs with hair or marabou; I always think I’ve found a better mousetrap. But by the end of the day, I resort back to my tried and true 1.75 tube bodies with a lead head –usually a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce size – the same exact jig that’s been catching thousands of crappie for 50 years.

I always fall back on one of three basic color shades: dark (blacks and blues), natural (shad colors) or bright (chartreuses and oranges). I still have to tinker around with those weight and color combinations, but most of the time the answer to making them bite can be found in that basic array of choices. It’s a stark reminder that it’s always the same lead and plastic, but it’s things like rate of fall, retrieve speed, cadence of action and a couple of basic color hues to match water and sky conditions that provoke the bite.

Fast Forward Learning for Forward-Facing Sonar

One would think that there are only so many lessons crappie fishing can teach you about bass fishing. But crappie fishing is the teacher that keeps on teaching. Nowadays, fishing for specks as a learning tool is more prudent than ever due to the advent of forward-facing sonar.  

I’d be willing to bet that some of the guys on tour who are so good with this new technology honed their understanding of it by studying crappie with forward-facing sonar. I know for a fact that speck fishing in the winter is what gave me a huge head start in deciphering what I was looking at on this new generation of electronics.

Due to the way crappie position in brush and timber in many lakes and reservoirs across the country during winter, they’re perfect for calibrating forward facing sonar settings. Crappie stay put in structure, you can see them swimming around the structure and they give you a baseline for the size fish you are watching. They’re great practice for watching your lure fall into the school to see how they react.

In a few weeks, I’ll take delivery of my new bass rig for the 2021 MLF season – a Nitro with a Mercury 250 – and the first thing I will do with it is go crappie fishing to get every thing dialed in to catch bass.